If you want to look for one verse that encapsulates the gist of Christianity, it’s hard to find something better than John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.
Since John 3:16 is such a core precept of Christianity, let’s look into it a bit, ask a few important questions, and see if this core precept makes any sense. From experience, I can say that this is a tricky subject, one which is difficult for many people to wrap their heads around – particularly for those who are emotionally connected to this precept, and to its classic apologies and defenses. So lets take it slow, and go over it a few times to make sure we clarify things.
Starting at the very beginning, who supposedly created the universe along with all the humans who live in it? God, of course. Who set up all the conditions surrounding life, death, perishing and eternal life? God, of course. Did god know how things would turn out for humans, equipped as they are with the frailties he gave them? Of course he did – he’s omniscient. Could god have created the above mentioned conditions and human frailties differently if he wanted them to be different? Of course he could – he’s omnipotent.
So what we have here is a situation where god is in complete control – over everything. Everything that exists, exists precisely the way it is, precisely because god wanted it to exist that way, otherwise he would have created it differently. And what this means is that there was no reason for god to have sacrificed anything – let alone the son he created – not because it’s immoral, but because it makes no sense.
This, little realization, in and of itself, is enough to debunk Christianity because under the framework of such a creator, there cannot be such a thing as sin – which is defined as something that goes against god’s will. If god willed everything into existence exactly the way it is, then nothing within this willed universe can be said to go against the omniscient will that created it. And if something god willed into existence did happen to go against his will later on, this would be an internal conflict within an omniscient mind that can’t decides what it wants. Even if such a thing were possible, how could the responsibility for it fall on anyone other than the conflicted mind that created everything?
The next important question to ask about John 3:16 is, who is god “giving” his son to? Christians are supposed to believe that having gotten dissatisfied with his own work, this all knowing god came up with a perfect plan to atone for his creations by having himself (in the form of his human son) tortured to death by his Roman creations in Iron Aged Palestine. By doing this, god would be sacrificing himself to himself, in order for him to forgive his human creations for being how he created them in the first place.
I wish there were another way to put it, but the entire Christian idea of sin, atonement and salvation really is that silly. This might help explain why the vast majority of all humans who have lived since the time of Jesus haven’t bought into this story by becoming Christians, which also means that this “perfect plan” has mostly failed.
In the face of all of this, the only counter argument Christian apologists keep presenting centers around human free will being responsible for sin and abandonment of god, rather than god being responsible for what he supposedly created in the first place. These apologists keep stating that god gave humans free will because he didn’t want obedient robots, he wanted people to choose to love him on their own.
This predictable excuse is surprisingly common in light of how quickly it breaks down when you give it some serious thought. Being granted freedom by an omnipotent, omniscient creator is nothing more than that creator pre-programming you with the illusion of freedom. If there’s nothing your creator doesn’t already know in advance about you and your future decisions (since he’s omniscient), then the freedom of such human will is still contained within the framework that had been created for you.
To be created exactly the way you are by someone who has perfect knowledge about what you’ll do, is the definition of being pre-programmed. The only freedom allotted to the creations in such a setup is from the knowledge that they have been pre-programmed.
On top of all that, god also supposedly transcends time and space. This is important because if your creator, in addition to being omnipotent and omniscient, is also timeless and omnipresent, there’s no point in asking whether he has foreknowledge of your decisions. How could such a creator not have this type of foreknowledge?
We therefore end up with the conclusion that it’s impossible for humans to go against god’s will because there’s nothing in existence which didn’t result from him willing it to be that way in the first place – past, present and future. In such a setup, humans are no different from characters willed into existence by a supernatural writer. If nothing – past, present or future – can escape the foreknowledge of the writer who willed everything into existence, then there can be no such thing as sin – characters going against the will of the writer – making the idea of forgiveness of such impossible sin ludicrous.
From my experience, theist will be very resistant to your pointing out that their entire belief system is based on a logical contradiction. Most of these theists, having been so indoctrinated with Christian apologetics, will doggedly cling to the idea that our god-given human free will is a solution to the contradiction, rather than a simple reiteration of it.
Try to be patient with them, and give them a few guiding questions that can show them how the contradiction persists no matter what angle it’s viewed from: Did god come up with his grand plan for you before he created you? Are you capable of deviating from god’s plan by means of the free will he supposedly gave you? Has god already decided in advance – before he ever created you – whether or not he’ll send you to hell? Can you deviate from god’s predetermined plan, and if so, what does this mean about god’s omniscience?
The core Christian problem isn’t with morality or responsibility, it’s with a story that makes no sense – a story that contradicts itself on its own terms.
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